The GauLs

From the start of the La Tene period, the Celts of Iron Age Europe migrated westward into what is now France. This became Gaul, the heart of Celtic Europe. Strong cultural and economic bonds united the Callic tribes for over five centuries, although they were never a single political entity. However, though capable of resisting the westward incursions of Germanic tribes, the Gauls were unable to repel the power of Rome.

Right: The Kilburn Sword, 300-200 bc, found in a burial site in Kilburn, East Yorkshire, England. The polished bronze front plate was decorated in La T6ne style "sword" scroll pattern.

oward the end of the I lallstatt period, a westward migration of Celts crossed the Rhine. The principal period of Celtic expansion took place during the fifth century BC", when hands of Celts entered Italy, France, and Spain. This expansion was partially caused by fresh waves of European immigrants pressing in from the east and north. The Cimbri (a proto-Celtic culture) and the Teutones migrated toward Celtic homelands from the north, while further to the east other Germanic tribes arrived in central Europe. There is some evidence that many of these Germanic tribes already had some form of cultural contact with the Hallstatt Celts before they reached what is today Germany.

The Cimbri attacked the Celtic Boii tribe in Bohemia, then met the Roman army and defeated it at the Battle of Noreia (113 BC). Further to the west, the Cimbri and the Teutones united to drive the indigent Celtic tribes out of the Rhine and Danube basins, then entered Gaul. They then swung south into Italy, where they were finally defeated by the Romans at Vercellae (101 BC). The effect of these Germanic migrations was that the River Rhine became the effective border between the Celtic and Germanic tribes.

When the Hallstatt period Celts began to migrate westward into Gaul from the fifth century BC, they came as settlers rather than as invaders. Initially the northern and central regions of Gaul were the principal regions of Celtic settlement. The coastal regions to the west and south remained largely unsettled by the Celts, and as late as the first century BC, the Mediterranean coast (Provence) was seen as an essentially non-Gallic region. From the sixth century BC the Phoenicians had established a

Celtic SettlementGaul Trading

Left: Bronze model of a human head, dating from c.50-25 bc, with Gallic features.

trading colony at Massalia (later Massilia, or Marseilles), and the local Gauls developed closer ties with their Mediterranean neighbors than they did with their Gallic neighbors further inland. Otherwise, the Celts dominated almost all of Gaul, the most notable exception being Armorica (Brittany), which maintained much of its pre-Celtic structure until the Roman invasions of the mid-first century BC.

The Gallic way of life

The typical Gallic tribal area constituted a river valley, with its low pastureland and high grazing slopes for livestock and timber. Small tribal groupings formed alliances with others, creating larger political and social groupings. This was not always a peaceful union. The sprawling tribal territories of the third century BC onward were often created gradually, as a result of conquest or marriage, annexation, or treaty. Although still based along Gaul's river systems, these larger tribal areas extended to cover large sections of the Gallic countryside.

The rivers themselves provided avenues for communication between these larger tribes (or tribal confederations), as well as formed the core of the tribal homelands. The Aedui occupied the Saone and Loire valleys, the Sequani the Doubs and part of the Saone valleys, the Ixarisii the Seine valley, and the Lemovices the lands surrounding the Garonne. Smaller tribal divisions remained, and even these political units appear to have been sub-divided into regional tribal units. Gaul was a patchwork of political units, and although Gallic society was a relatively stable one, its lack of political unity allowed the Romans to "divide and conquer." By the time the Gauls succeeded in uniting in the face of the common threat, it was too late to save their civilization.

Left: Bronze model of a human head, dating from c.50-25 bc, with Gallic features.

Gaul Civilization Map
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Responses

  • anja kastner
    Who were the celts' neighbors?
    8 years ago
  • nebay
    Are the guals celtic?
    8 years ago
  • Sari Myllys
    Is gaul south of italy?
    8 years ago

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